Baby’s got colic? Here are seven ways to help everyone survive it

Guest post by Rodrigues
Colic.. pretty much sucks for everyone. Photo by xordroyd, used under Creative Commons license.

Sometimes babies cry, and sometimes they cry relentlessly for hours every day. Colic, high needs, or whatever a parent decides to call it — this is a time when humankind’s coping mechanisms are put through the gauntlet. I’ve had two passionate criers, and these are the strategies that helped me be here today with 99% of my sanity.

Things to do when you have a little bundle of screams

Watch a bunch of those artsy foreign flicks

Your baby is screaming, so you probably can’t hear most of your favorite shows and movies. Have you heard of the Five S’s? I think the sixth should be “subtitles.” You can read subtitles, swaddle, swing and shush at the same time. During my son’s first 12 weeks, I watched every Almodovar film then in existence.

Take your baby somewhere loud

I mean LOUD. One of the only things crying babies actually like is noise louder than themselves. I stuck big ear muffs on my colicky babe and took him to a demolition derby. Those were the most contented 2 hours of his life thus far. And I was out! Among people! On top of its quieting affect, loud places are awesome because people are less likely to look at you with “Get that baby home” eyes if your baby wails.

Scream words your mother hated

Anything that feels funny and a little devious works. My mom always hated a certain four-letter F-word… fart. So every once in a while, barely audible above the baby’s screams, I would shout—FART. FAAAART! Fartfartfart. I was able to smile at myself. I was able to remember that I’m a grownup who can choose to scream fart and who can choose to handle the cry-a-thon with patience.

Call people during the screaming

Let them hear your baby scream. Let them tell you “Holy crap” and “It gets better.” Sometimes being understood is the best medicine in frustrating situations.

Have a reason you think your baby is crying and use it as the why-is-he-crying conversation ender

Listening to people postulate all the pains that could be making your baby cry can be frightening and demoralizing. If you want to listen to what might be wrong, you can ask, but you’re likely to get tired of hearing those suggestions everywhere you go. I liked stating, “Some babies cry more than others. We think he’s just really passionate about it.” The end.

Adopt a 24/7 self-soothing strategy

Drinking a cup of chamomile when I was already shaking was worthless. I had to take on a round-the-clock self-calming strategy in order to stave off the panic attacks I would have during especially long crying jags. Think preventative medicine over treatment. This was, of course, totally antithetical to what I wanted. I wanted coffee to help me make it through the day. I wanted to take advantage of my son’s sleep to get a million things done. What I needed was my body in its calmest state and to use those quiet minutes for self-care.

Dress up your baby and yourself for pictures and videos

If you have an especially “high needs” baby, the first few months of life will likely be an immemorial haze once the crying waves recede. At 8 months old, our high-needs baby was suddenly the most delightful thing in the world. I was having a hard time taking part in the delight because I was hanging on to the guilt of resentment in those first months. I felt like I missed the beginning of his life while I was busy trying to keep both of us from crying. Thankfully, the pictures and videos of his non-crying minutes helped me get over the guilt and hard memories. I could look back at him dressed as a dinosaur, then in a Santa Suit, then wrapped up on New Year’s in his favorite swaddling blanket… and remember that I was intent on enjoying his infancy despite the difficulties. Then I could finally look forward to the rest of his babyhood.

Ed note: my son also had colic, and we ended up taking him to a chiropractor. After 3 mini (and free! Our guy was rad!) sessions, the colic went totally away. If you’re experiencing a colicy/high-needs baby, it may be an option worth looking into. — Stephanie

Comments on Baby’s got colic? Here are seven ways to help everyone survive it

  1. We were the people that walked…and walked and walked for the first 4 months of our guys life. We would put him in the moby or ring sling and walk. When the weather was bad we would put him in the moby or ring sling and bounce on an exersize ball while holding him and watching the Cosby Show with captions. But, mostly we walked–because crying doesn’t sound as loud outside.

    • We had a neighbor with a tree swing, and with their permission I sat out there for hours swinging so I wouldn’t have to listen to my baby’s cries multiply as they bounced off the walls of the house. I was so heartbroken when the weather turned cold and I couldn’t get out there anymore!

  2. My bubba had really bad colic for the first 12 weeks or so. I didn’t believe people when they told me about it, I was convinced they were ‘just trying to scare me’ – Good Lord was I in for a surprise! The only thing that I found that helped was exercise. Take your little one out in their pram or the sling and wander around for as long/often as you can. We live on a pretty busy road (Not ideal, I know!) and I would push him round near the noise of the traffic – I think he found it soothing. Plus, the exercise definitely helped me mentally, as well as physically. Being cooped up at home just makes your anxiety levels go crazy.

  3. Jasper had colic and Sean and I thought we were going to lose our miiiiiinds. At first we thought it was just the “witching hour” that you hear about, but then it turned into 3-5 hours every single night. We tried EVERYTHING, and as I noted in the post, the chiropractor was the only thing that worked. It was incredible.

    • I was going to say, I used to work for a chiropractor and the place where I saw IMMEDIATE response was the little colicky ones. It was almost immediate the relief they had, I was completely blown away!

      • That’s how it was for Jasper — after the first visit his colic episodes were way, way shorter. After the second he was fine for a few days and then it started again, and after the third he was totally fine. I was worried about it initially because it sounds kind of… crazy to do, but the guy we went to was magic or something. He just pressed on Jasper’s back while he laid on top of me and whatever he did worked. I’ll never stop praising it.

        • My dad is a chiropractor and I used to work at his office, where we saw so many babies who had colic and my dad had a lot of success with them. A good chiropractor can really work wonders!

        • Chiropractor worked for us, too, but still only treated the symptoms of colic and not the cause. He also practically lived in his swing for two months. Dishwasher, washing machine, shower, vaccuum, moby wrap, yoga ball.

          However, I wish wish wish I had learned sooner about the foods I was eating that could have been the cause of his colic. The only ones people had suggested to me were dairy, caffeine, and Go Lean crunch (I guess ultra-fiber cereals can be difficult for babies). But I had cut out all three of those with no difference.

          Months and months and months later I discovered that babies can be sensitive to SOOOO much more in the mother’s diet. I would have tried all the other foods had I known back then.

          After months and months of trial and error (the colic was long gone, but he had cradle cap, eczema, and two bouts of unexplained hives) – I narrowed it down to corn and soy (which are in EVERYTHING). He’s also sensitive to the sumac family (mango, cashew, pistachio).

          So anyone else going through it right now, try to google information on elimination diets or join the yahoo “foodlab” group and post or search the archives for colic. Babies do not necessarily cry for no reason, we just can’t always figure out what the reason is. When their digestive systems get used to the poison, they settle down. But there are other signs along the way that we don’t always notice are interrelated.

    • I have heard several other similar stories of miracle-working chiropractors or rolfers. Definitely worth a shot. We were almost to that point with our little bug but them he magically started to improve on his own. It does get better…

    • at the risk of sounding really ignorant, what is it that the chiropractor does that helps with colic? what is the chiropractor “fixing”?

      (obviously I don’t know a lot about chiropractors, but I always thought colic was caused by gas or acid reflux, so I’m wondering how having your back worked on helps fix that. or maybe I’m just wrong about what colic is caused by.)

      • I had the same question when we went — the way he explained it to me is something along the lines of sometimes when kids are born their neck & back vertebrae can be pushed out of alignment, which can impact the digestive system, which can then cause a lot of pain when trying to digest formula or breastmilk.

        Having said that, let me also say this: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I also don’t advocate using Offbeat Mama for your medical advice, so if it’s something you’re curious about for current or future kids, I’d ask a pediatrician about it. A friend told me she tried it with her son and it worked, and it was our last option and we took it. It’s also very very important to askt he chiropractor if he or she has worked on infants before.

        • This also doesn’t mean that just because my guy said this might be the reason for Jasper’s colic it was, or that it’s the reason that other kids have colic. Just noting!

        • thanks for the info! our kidlet isn’t here yet, but I was a very colicky baby so I’m stocking up on tips and mentally preparing myself for the worse.

          of course, I was colicky because I was (and still am) lactose intolerant. it wasn’t until I was 2 that we got a new pedi who didnt have his head up his ass, who said, “this poor kid has allergies. try cutting out dairy.” and poof problem solved.

          my best friend’s kid had terrible colic, and had to be put on special formula, although that didn’t solve it entirely. he did grow out of it though, and is the happiest baby ever now.

    • Osteopathic Medicine/osteopathic manipulative treatment is great and can really help babies! You can always look for an osteopathy (DO) who does manipulation instead of a chiropractor..they usually do more and chiropractors got most of their stuff from DOs anyways lol.

  4. My now 3yr old daughter had colic and we bought something called a Happitummi. SAVED OUR LIVES!! It was minutes after putting it on before she was calm and falling asleep. It’s an herbal pouch that you heat for 10-15sec in the microwave, then place in a cute fuzzy belt that you strap around babies belly. Bonus: It smells amazing!! So you and baby walk around smelling like awesome incense!! Would totally recommend it to anyone with a colicy baby. =)

  5. When my twins came home from the NICU they were super colicy. They would scream all night (ALL NIGHT)! To make it worse they were also attached to apnea monitors and oxygen. We nearly lost our minds. The only thing that even kind of worked was our moby wraps. We’d each put a baby in, throw a monitor over one shoulder and oxygen over the other and walk around the apartment. Oh and screaming. The occasional trip to the basement to just scream really helped keep us sane. We later found out they were allergic to milk protiens and had reflux so we switched to a hypoallergenic formula to fortify my breastmilk with and started them on prevacid.

    • Yeah, my baby didn’t have colic, but he was super fussy and threw up a lot. On a friend’s recommendation I gave up most dairy (though I’ll still have goat cheese with breakfast and that seems to be fine). Now he is awesome! He still spits up a lot, but no more of the real vomiting and the fussiness is pretty much all gone.

    • I had colic as an infant because I was lactose intolerant. It was so bad that I couldn’t even digest breastmilk without being completely miserable. I overcame the issue when I was around seven, but even then, I could only consume skim or reduced fat dairy products without becoming ill (albeit, it was mild). My mother did continue to breastfeed me, and I co-slept as a result because I had to constantly feed to make up for the reflux and the spit up. I’m not entirely sure what options they had back then, or what options they have now, but I would imagine vegan formulas are something you may want to consider if a lactose problem is really bad.

      • Awesome colic tips. Just to ditto the comments on diet — LOADS of little ones are a bit lactose intolerant. The other big dietary sneak is wheat/gluten. There are endless anecdotal stories about kids whose colic disappears overnight once they aren’t ingesting milk/breastfeeding mama stops eating wheat. Colic is usually a sign that they are uncomfy! If they are uncomfy for no apparant reason, dietary issues (even if they go away later) are a pretty good bet.

      • Human milk does not contain lactose, so you were getting it from the stuff she ate not her milk itself. If she had cut out all dairy products, her milk should have been okay. But we didn’t know this stuff back then.

  6. Oh, the screaming. I also made up reasons: hyperalert, intelligent babies just want to be in the middle of the action. They don’t need sleep!
    The screaming combined with lack of sleep and what I’m now realizing was (and is) post-partum depression nearly did me in (or drove me to do myself in). I couldn’t handle the crying, and she didn’t cry when I (and only I) held her, so I just didn’t put her down for 3.5 months. She peed with me, showered with me, slept with me, ate with me.
    I did everything I could just to cope & try to stay sane. It’s a roller coaster ride!

  7. Baby J was in the NICU for a month so when he actually came home we were under the impression that everything would be just peachy. HA!
    We walked, we bounced, the 5 s’s really did help. I cried, lost sleep, and was a general mess until the night my husband handed me earplugs and said my turn. I had 6 hours of sleep and everything looked much better that next morning. It helps that hubby works second shift so he could take the overnight times without much of a sacrifice. I know that it’s not feasible for everyone but getting a break was my saving grace.

  8. Your port brings tears to my eyes. Every day I think it’ll be the last day I will have to listen to my little girls’ relentless shrieks. My cries for help have been often, but I don’t receive any. I am quite surprised I have not completely lost it. It’s great to read this because it reminds me of the realness of people. Both of my babies have been VERY high need babies. No one can tell me “it’ll pass” enough for me to ever believe it! I feel terrible to think I want this time to be over because life s so short – but SERIOUSLY!

  9. We had good luck with BioGaia probiotic drops. It might have been coincidence, but our son’s colic episodes almost disappeared after we started with probiotics!

  10. We had a really colicy baby, I even took her to the ER. The doctor said the best thing to me. He said “this is normal, but it isn’t okay; we need to get relief for both of you” What he recommended was to alter my diet (no dairy, no gassy foods) and give the baby probiotic drops. This worked wonders!

  11. Yep, more survivors of reflux and screaming here. Totally wish I could have read this 2 months ago when I was right in the thick of it – but it’s still to hear that I was not alone and that other people felt afraid/resentful/depressed/crazy. My own top tip for surviving is forgiveness and for me it has been a big lesson – forgiving myself for all the negative feelings, my baby for being so unhappy and in pain instead of perfecto-baby like I’d been expecting/wanting, our family for not getting it straight away, other people with happy, easy babies… and so on and so on. Once I started actively trying to do this, I began to feel a lot better. That and communities like OBM – it’s places like this that kept me sane during those dark months.

  12. I just hope that moms reading this are able to ignore all the stories about how babies in Africa or wherever else don’t ever cry, because their mom’s do the right thing all the time. Your baby is not crying because you are doing something wrong! The last thing we need, on top of the insane-making crying jags, is a dose of guilt.
    We didn’t have full blown colic, but it sure seemed like our daughter was not happy to be alive for the first 3 months. We tried every single thing we heard about (running a hair dryer all the time seemed to be more effective than probiotics, dietary changes, or anything else!) She seemed happier and happier the more she could move around on her own. By 5 months we’d be in parent/baby groups and other parents would be commenting on how content she was all the time- if only they knew! If only I knew what fixed things! I still feel anxious when I hear about people having newborns. I would never start over again!

    • Actually babies ALL OVER THE WORLD cry like this. It’s now called Purple Crying, and all new parents go home with a DVD on how to cope. They do a big do-dah here on purple crying to raise awareness of shaken baby syndrome. 🙂

  13. I think the bit of most helpful advice I heard given to a parent of a high need baby who cried a lot was “It’s not your fault your baby cries a lot. Even if you did everything right, she would probably still cry a lot. Some babies just cry more than others.” Something like that does not devalue the mom or the baby.

  14. What about ear plugs? I have a near-autistic sensitivity to noise, especially when I am tired, and I used ear plugs all the time so that I don’t, say, want to murder my coworkers for talking when I am trying to think. I didn’t see anyone mention these, but it works wonders for dealing with screaming babies on airplanes. It doesn’t stop the screaming, but it makes me feel so much more peaceful!

  15. Oh, man. My son wasn’t colicy, but he threw up. A lot. So he was constantly hungry/fussy (and still is), and then there’s that time between 4 pm and 11 pm when he would just cry. And cry. We watched a lot of calm tv, like Dirty Jobs and Survival Man, where missing part of the dialogue wouldn’t hurt the story. We walked a lot. I can’t even sing the praises of Netflix enough during this time. Driving in noisy traffic with the window down and the heat turned way up also seemed to help put the babe to sleep. We also had an earplug rule, so the person on “night duty” could stay awake, but the parent sleeping had to wear earplugs and not come out of the room for six whole hours (or until tearful spouse woke them up for help).

  16. “If you have an especially “high needs” baby, the first few months of life will likely be an immemorial haze once the crying waves recede. At 8 months old, our high-needs baby was suddenly the most delightful thing in the world. I was having a hard time taking part in the delight because I was hanging on to the guilt of resentment in those first months. I felt like I missed the beginning of his life while I was busy trying to keep both of us from crying.”


    My daughter had horrible reflux and very low weight gain for so long, and I couldn’t bond with her… I was too caught up in trying to stop her from crying all day and night, and going from doctor to lactation consultant to specialist to… GAH. I rarely took pictures for the first 3 or 4 months of her life, and I still feel guilty and sometimes bitter that the first part of her life wasn’t a joyous, easy, happy bonding time that I’ll always remember.

  17. One night when I was frantically researching what to do with a crying baby while my girl was screaming I came across a piece of literature that said that some parents often have problems soothing crying babies because they are too frazzled to stick to a soothing technique for long enough. Whether you are bouncing a baby, walking with them or are swaddling them it is important to keep doing it as it can sometimes take several minutes to work. This has really helped us and I find more often then not we can get her to sleep by remembering this.

    If we are really desperate my husband will put her on his chest and we’ll put on one of our favourite albums (Smog’s ‘A River Ain’t Too Much To Love’) and we’ll sing along loudly. It almost always quiets her down and we always seem to feel better after singing.

    That said my girl is 8 weeks old and is still having a hard time so we have an appointment with a chiropractor in 4 days… here’s hoping!

    • This is a really good point, and something we were lucky to read early on too. It turned out that cradling our daughter in our arms and doing a combination of swaying and vigorous bouncing really calmed her down. If she was really upset it could take awhile to work, which is hard to commit to before you know it’ll for sure work.
      In fact, she was bizarrely inconsolable the other day and I decided to try the bounce and sway. It felt funny with her huge nearly 2 year old body, but I was surprised to find it still worked!

  18. Another key survival tool? Reinforcements. Our best friends had a very colicky baby, and every day or two we’d get the call, “now. please.” We’d drive over and take turns bouncing around the living room for an hour or two with him tucked under our arm like a football, while our friends worked in their garden, went out for coffee or, more than once, went to our house to take a nap.

  19. My mother-in-law swears by fennel seed tea (1 tablespoon fennel seed in 1 cup hot water for 10 min). She would give 1 teaspoon worth (once cooled) to her kids. I don’t want to give anything other than breast milk to my 1 month old daughter. But I have stated taking 1 cup of fennel seed tea a day. I have noticed a difference nearly right away. I hope this will cut down on gas and discomfort for my little one.

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